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The American Crow

Updated on December 19, 2017
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Science, nature and the environment, with regard to human impact, are subjects to which Chris applies his passions for research and writing.

The American Crow

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Introducing the American Crow

American crows can be seen all across the North American continent. Often considered pests, these birds are actually among the most intelligent creatures on the planet. They display problem solving skills, make and utilize tools and even engage in play. This article will describe these aspects of the American crow and more. Also included are a comparison chart and visual comparison of the American crow and the common raven so that the two can be distinguished since they are often seen together.

The American Crow in Flight

Source

Calls of the American Crow

To use these sound links, right click and choose "open in new tab." Otherwise it will take you from this page.

Crow call-Typical

Rattling-Guttural sound

Juvenile-Begging

By Jonathon Jongsma (http://www.xeno-canto.org/80525) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Physical Characteristics of the American Crow

Sub species of the American crow:

  • Eastern
  • Western
  • Florida
  • Southern

Size of the American crow

  • Length-About 16 to 21 inches (40-53 cm) Approximately 40% of the crows length is its tail.
  • Weight-11.1 to 21.9 ounces (316 to 620 grams)
  • Wingspan-33 to 39 inches (85 to 100 cm)

Other physical characteristics of the American crow:

  • The American crow can be recognized by its black feet, legs, body and beak. A juvenile might have some yellow in the beak.
  • The beak is long and straight, measuring from 1.2 to 2.2 inches (3 to 5.5 cm)
  • Thick necked
  • Lifespan-7-8 years in wild. Up to 30 years in captivity.
  • Flight-steady, low rowing wingbeats. Does not soar.

American Crow Distribution

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The Habitat of American Crows

Crows can be found just about everywhere in the lower 48 states except the deserts of the southwest and in the extreme northwest. The Northwestern crow, which dominates the Pacific Northwest, and the American crow are closely related. They were separated by the glaciation west of the rockies during the ice age. The Northwestern crow dominates the Pacific Northwest except where the two species co-occur in the Seattle area. The Northwestern crow is slightly smaller. Wherever crows are found, they are most certainly looking for food.

  • Farm fields-seeds, rodents, earth worms
  • Dumps/landfills-garbage
  • Roads/roadsides-carrion
  • Parks/city streets/campgrounds-garbage
  • Forests/woods-seeds, insects, fruit, small animals

American Crow Egg

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Mating and Nesting Habits of American Crows

American crows are monogamous. The Mated pair will form a large family over the course of several breeding seasons, numbering up to 15 individuals. The offspring from previous breeding seasons assist with feeding the nestlings and helping them learn to identify predators. The young reach breeding age after two years, but will usually not leave their parents to breed for 4 to 5 years.

Nesting season begins in April. Crows build large, bulky nests of sticks, mud, weeds, grass, moss and feathers. They usually choose a nest site that is 10 to 70 feet above the ground, mostly in trees, but occasionally in large bushes but rarely on the ground. They prefer oak trees, but will also use large conifers. The female lays 3 to 6 eggs which incubate in 18 days. The young have feathers and are ready for flight (fledged) in about 36 days after hatching.

"Murder" or "Flock?" Which is Your Preference?

While it is true that the actual name for a group of crows is a "murder," it has also been mentioned that only poets use that term. Scientists use the more common word, "flock."

Interesting Behaviors of American Crows

Mobbing-Occasionally crows are heard giving a harsh, drawn out caw and diving into a treetop. They are likely attempting to drive out a larger bird such as a hawk, owl or eagle that is a danger to their young. Once the predator flies from the tree, the crows will chase it until it leaves the area.

Play-One common behavior trait among animals of higher intelligence is activity of playing. Crows have been observed carrying a small stone into the air and dropping it, then swooping down to catch it before the stone hits the ground. Many accounts of crows playing in a variety of ways have been reported including playing with other species of animals, such as dogs.

Crow funerals-It may be a stretch to call them funerals, but these birds have been seen gathering in large groups around the body of a dead crow with which the particular living crows were familiar.

The Intelligence of the American Crow

The Intelligence of American Crows

After viewing the above video, the screen should reveal other videos about the intelligence of crows which you can continue viewing. For best results, click on the Youtube icon in the lower, left hand corner to watch it on the Youtube site.

Crows have been known to make and use tools such as forming a long, slender stick to poke into holes in the bark of trees. Insects attach themselves to the stick and the crow withdraws the stick and eats the insects.

In captivity, crows have been given a beaker containing water and a floating worm at too low a level for the bird to reach. Beside the beaker is a pile of stones. The crows drop the stones into the beaker, thereby raising the water level until they can reach the worm.

Scientists consider the American crow to have the problem solving skills of a 7 to 8 year old, human child.

The American Crow and West Nile Virus

In 1999, the West Nile virus was carried to the United States from Africa. Crows have proven to be highly susceptible to the virus. Wherever West Nile virus takes hold, crows are among the first casualties. For this reason, crows have become a sentinel species indicating the presence of West Nile virus in a particular region. Since 1999, the American crow population has been reduced by 45% due to West Nile virus. Despite this rapid decline, the American crow is not considered to be endangered.

Differences Between the Common Raven and the American Crow

Common Raven
American Crow
Broad, wedge shaped tail
Square/rectangular tail
Larger than crow
Smaller than raven
"Roman nose" beak
Long, straight beak
Soars, rarely flaps wings
Does not soar, low, constant flapping of wings

Comparison of the Common Raven and the American Crow

Common raven
Common raven | Source
American crow
American crow | Source

The Main Differences Between the Common Raven and the American Crow

The main things to look for when trying to decide if you are looking at a common raven or an American crow are the tail and how the bird flies. The common raven has a broad, wedge shaped tail, while the American crow has a smaller, narrower tail. When the common raven is flying, it soars, almost never flapping its wings. The American crow almost never soars and flaps constantly. Also, when seen together, the raven is markedly larger than the American crow.

Common ravens and American crows inhabit most of the North American continent, and often are seen together, even playing together. Both are of the common raven is Corvus corax. The scientific name of the American crow is Corvus brachyrhynchos. Both birds are of the genus, corvus.

Differences Between the Common Raven and American Crow by Wing Pattern (Click on thumbnail)

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Notice the broad, wedge shaped tail of the common raven.Notice the narrow, more rectangular shaped tail of the American crow.
Notice the broad, wedge shaped tail of the common raven.
Notice the broad, wedge shaped tail of the common raven. | Source
Notice the narrow, more rectangular shaped tail of the American crow.
Notice the narrow, more rectangular shaped tail of the American crow. | Source

American Crows, One of the Most Intelligent Species on Earth

The next time you see, or more than likely you will hear them first, the American crow, spend a few minutes observing their behavior, listening to their calls, seeing how they interact with each other.

These are remarkable birds which have been denigrated by many, and overlooked by most. Actually, these magnificent birds are among the most intelligent animals on the planet, in the company of whales, dolphins and chimpanzees.

Place some raw peanuts in-the-shell or some small sized pet food in your back yard and see if you can attract these very social and entertaining birds to your property.

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